About Us

About Us

DIRECTOR: Karen Stout, Ph.D., Bowman Distinguished Professor of Leadership Studies 


The Morse Leadership Institute’s (MLI) mission is to develop student leaders who can work collaboratively and inclusively with others by honoring diverse leadership values, styles, and perspectives. Rather than take a proscriptive approach to teach leadership, we encourage students to ascertain their own leadership merit and facility through the learning experiences and support mechanisms we provide for them. for their leadership development through a roundtable view that encourages a diversity of perspectives and communities by deconstructing and redefining what leadership means for everyone.  

The MLI provides meaningful, impactful, and academically feasible opportunities for students to engage in leadership studies and practices. To achieve this, the institute provides a broad spectrum of courses that promote the development of leaders through scaffolding curriculum to foster personal and professional growth. We offer a minor in leadership studies, but students from any department or program on campus may take our courses. We have also partnered with the Sustainability Engagement Institute to offer a Climate Leadership Certificate and are looking towards creating a similar certificate for STEM students. 

Our core class, LDST 101: Introduction to Leadership Studies and the new LDST 301: Leadership Studies: Theory & Application are both gateway courses into the leadership minor. Both courses provide an opportunity for students to critically examine leadership by exploring power, authority and accountability. These courses also provide applied learning opportunities; LDST 101 through group-based community engagement projects and LDST 397 through individual projects. Our website to learn more about the 101 community engagement projects. 

In addition to our courses, the MLI provides professional mentoring, supports students to attend academic conferences, provides service-learning based curriculum, and global leadership opportunities. We also host events and professional development programs, often partnering with Enrollment and Student Service campus partners. 

Our commitment to the Okanagan Charter means we prioritize creating a healthier campus and community environment. Our success in creating a community of care for students is evident in our 98.91% retention and persistence rate (of 165 LDST minors since the minor’s inception). We do this through building lasting connections with students by nurturing their development as leaders in ways that are meaningful for them. We take great pride in providing various ways students can get involved to practice their leadership development, always considering their long-term goals and how these opportunities will contribute to their academic success and career trajectories. 

The concept of creating a curricular and co-curricular leadership development program for WWU students came from administrative and staff leaders in the Enrollment and Student Services Division (then known as “Student Affairs”). President Emeritus Karen W. Morse supported these efforts. Their innovative vision was to create a university-wide leadership development program unlike any other in the nation.

But it wasn’t until Jack and Jo Ann Bowman endowed the Bowman Distinguished Professor of Leadership, in combination with major support for the creation of the Institute from David and Denise Cole and Rick and Sylvia Haggen, that this programmatic dream could become reality. The Morse Leadership Institute (MLI) was created in September 2009 and named in honor of WWU President Emeritus Karen Morse.

The mission of MLI is to develop graduates who can exercise responsible, ethical, and inclusive leadership in their chosen careers and communities. Whether it is for students minoring in Leadership Studies or students engaged more broadly in leadership activities across campus, the MLI wants to create leaders who embody the notion of “Active Minds, Changing Lives” in our global society.

The $1 million gift from Jack and Jo Ann Bowman endowed the Bowman Distinguished Professorship in Leadership. The faculty member in this position is dedicated to curricular innovation, teaching, and scholarship that advances the understanding and application of leadership.

“We were just very happy that we were able to pay back a little of what Western had done for us,” said Jack Bowman, a Western alumnus. “When we heard that Karen Morse was involved with the leadership program, we thought what better way to do something for Western and at the same time something that would be identified with Karen.”

“We have no shortage of bright students at Western,” he said. “But this program will help generate a new generation of students who won’t just be ready to follow, they’ll be ready to lead.”

Who is Karen W. Morse?

Karen W. Morse served as Western Washington University President from August 1993 to August 2008 and was the first woman president at WWU. “She is one of many women who mounted college presidencies in the latter decades of the twentieth century, and she, among a number of those woman leaders, came to her post with a significant background in the sciences” (Nelson 132). During her tenure, a number of new campus facilities were built including the Student Recreation Center, the Communications Facility, the Academic Instructional Center and the Campus Services Building. Morse is also credited with improving the school’s student-faculty ratio through her leadership. “Over the course of her 15-year tenure as president, Karen Morse led Western through a period of tremendous growth – of the campus, the faculty and the student body – while elevating its national reputation, setting the university on a trajectory to realize its present and future strengths,” said Peggy Zoro, previous chair of WWU’s board of trustees (BBJ Today). Morse will be remembered for her strong, focused leadership but also for her vision of a collaborative community where education always comes first (Cocke 6).


Nelson, Stephen James. College Presidents Reflect: Life in and out of the Ivory Tower. R&L Education, 2013. Print.

“WWU Renames Building after Former President Karen Morse.” BBJ Today. 20 Dec. 2012. Web. 04 May 2016.

Cocke, Paul. “Karen W. Morse Gave Students a Lift.” Window on Western. 2008. Web. <http://www.wwu.edu/leadership/morse/documents/WindowsSpring2008.pdf>.